Opportunities for Individual Activism, Part 2

Opportunities for Individual Activism, Part 2

In Part One of my Opportunities for Individual Activism column (“Beginner”), I started describing some personal choices you could make to help animals or advance vegan awareness. Today I continue this series, which will finish with Part Three (“Advanced”) in a couple of weeks.

Food outreach: Bake treats or cook meals for friends once a week, have them over for a dinner party, take them out to excellent vegan restaurants on your birthday (they’ll feel obligated), and bring vegan food to potlucks. If you bring your lunch to work and your co-workers frequently ask you about your food, make sure you bring enough to share. They may turn you down most of the time, but you never know.

Media feedback and letter-writing: Whether writing letters, blogging, posting at social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace or even at YouTube, there are many ways to take a high profile media story and leverage it on behalf of animals.

The most recent instance of this was a local news story focused on several vegan businesses. I’m not from the area, but a friend of mine turned me on to a clip at the station’s website. I watched the clip and was impressed at the complete lack of snarkiness or glibness about the subject of veganism, which is so common in much of the coverage that I see. It was a really positive story. So I wrote my thanks to the station through their feedback form, blogged about it at the Boston Vegan Association blog and posted a link for readers to offer their feedback as well. The internet makes it much easier to get the word out about these stories fast enough to shower replies on a news organization within 24-48 hours of a story airing or appearing in print.

I recently printed out every letter I’d ever had published by a newspaper or magazine to help develop my letter-writing campaign for the BVA. Most of them are available online, so this was pretty easy, especially since I’d saved most of them as PDF files on my computer already. Imagine the satisfaction I felt when I saw how thick the binder grew to be. I know it could have been even thicker if I had been more consistent in my letter-writing, but seeing all those letters together in a one-inch stack encouraged me to keep it up and to write more.

Not every letter you write is going to be printed, of course. If you write a letter to NPR, thanking Weekly Edition Sunday for their interview of Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, you’re probably not going to have your letter read on the air. But letters like this one, and to the news station I mentioned above, will be read and possibly replied to. The more correspondence these editors and producers receive, the more likely they are to cover similar stories in the future with your feedback in mind.

It’s also not a bad idea to write to media outlets when they do spread misinformation or otherwise portray veganism in a negative light, but it is just as important to maintain a positive approach with these letters, educating the person responsible for the story (and, by extension readers of your letter) in a constructive, nonjudgmental way, inspiring them if you can, as opposed to insulting them or coming off as angry or childish. Take advantage of the platform to reach and teach, not to vent.

When writing to news organizations, make sure to check for their requirements. Most of them require your full name, full address, contact number and so on, and you should definitely keep your letter short to increase the likelihood that you will be published.

Finally, don’t forget opportunities to write letters to influential people who have done something positive for animals or veganism. It will encourage them to keep it up, especially if there are letters coming in from the opposition, complaining about the move. All the more reason why they need to hear praise from you.

Practice public speaking: Join a local Toastmasters International chapter and/or practice speaking as much as you can in front of groups, especially if you have friends that feel the way you do about animal issues. Work together on developing these skills. Get comfortable thinking on your feet and speaking naturally in unnatural situations. Time yourself. If you can, record yourself on video (or even just audio) to identify nervous behavioral tics and grammar problems to iron out. By the time you get into a situation where you’re speaking to someone about animals or veganism–even if it’s one-on-one–you will be much, much better prepared to handle the situation.

Community outreach: There’s not much vegan literature that I’m eager to hand out, for various reasons. And something isn’t always better than nothing, either. However, if you know of literature that is 99% of the way there for you, it can be easier to acquire that well-designed pamphlet and hand it out than to design your own. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good (well, I would settle for great). DIY is fun and grassroots, but it takes more work to get it together and may not have the polish you want to present in connection with your message.

One way to get around this altogether, if you live in a more vegan-friendly city, is to put together a free restaurant guide. You can gather information on vegan restaurants in just about any city from VegGuide.org and HappyCow.net, as well as restaurant databases devoted to a given city like Boston, New York or even Austin, TX. Use your word processing program of choice (or, if you have it, a more sophisticated layout program) to design an appealing one-page trifold flyer. Maybe you have a friend willing lend you some design skills. Ask around. [Ed: The Toronto Vegetarian Association has a great guide to producing a vegetarian directory.] Proofread the heck out of it (or have another friend proof it), include a blurb in there about why someone would want to be vegan (ideally avoiding pandering or unsupportable statements and even more ideally focusing on eliminating one’s contributions to animal exploitation, not on health or environmental reasons), where to get more information on the web, and include brief descriptions of the restaurants, such as notes on décor and signature dishes.

Hand these out instead of leafleting with AR/vegan pamphlets, offering “Free restaurant guides!” as you hold them out at arm’s length. People like getting free stuff, and you may end up in a positive discussion about veganism with someone. Please dress as accessibly as your wardrobe can manage, stay personable and positive no matter what, and avoid getting dragged into an argument. Remind an argumentative person that you’re there to provide free information and that you need to get back to it.

Don’t forget to leaflet on public property and not block pedestrian or vehicular traffic. In other words, stay out of trouble and focus on getting your restaurant guide into as many hands as possible. You may inspire people to give veganism a try, and the restaurants will certainly appreciate the business. The more successful vegan restaurants are, the more will be opened, and the more accessible veganism will be. Supply and demand!

That’s wraps up a few of the more ‘intermediate’ activist opportunities. The categorization was somewhat arbitrary due to the need to break the column up into three parts. Part Three is titled “Advanced,” but check it out when it’s posted in a couple of weeks. You don’t need to be a long-time activist to take on the actions I’m proposing there.

Eric is the publisher of An Animal-Friendly Life and co-founder of the Boston Vegan Association.

Originally posted on February 1, 2008

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